Dorn Discusses Funding, Better Teacher Evaluation System, Innovative Schools
BELLEVUE — November 18, 2011 — Education funding cannot be cut more than it already has, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said at a speech this morning, adding, “Don’t shortchange a generation of children because adults have a problem they can’t solve.”
Dorn made his comments today at the fall conference of the Washington State School Directors Association.
During the speech, Dorn outlined the progress being made on his priorities since he came into office in 2009 and his agenda for the upcoming 2012 legislative session, which will include legislation on helping ineffective teachers improve.
“Students need to be taught by the best teachers available,” he said. “Our new teacher evaluation system will identify teachers that need to improve. I want to make sure that those teachers get all the additional assistance and professional development they need.”
Dorn announced the first round of so-called Innovative Schools, which celebrate schools around the state that are providing instructional programs for students that are bold, creative, and innovative. A total of 22 schools were named. “These schools are working hard to meet the needs of individual students and preparing them for success in careers and college” he said. “I’m excited that the innovative schools program will be able to share their success stories.”
Dorn also praised the many partnerships the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has formed. Those partnerships – which include the Microsoft IT Academy, Boeing manufacturing pathways, Jobs for America’s Graduates, and Washington STEM – are providing more opportunities for students to graduate with the skills they need either to continue their education or to start work.
Dorn said he will spend much of the 2012 legislative session fighting to retain basic education funding. “I don’t believe cutting days from the school year is the answer,” he said, adding that doing so is a cut to basic education. Dorn said that a number of one-time savings are possible: delaying when schools receive their levy equalization money by two months, delaying when districts receive some of their apportionment money by two weeks and delaying depreciation payments for school buses by nine months. Adding those would save the state about $600 million dollars.
“This state is in a tough economic situation,” Dorn said. “But if we cut basic education, that affects our children and their futures. We can’t let that happen.”
Beyond that, Dorn’s legislative agenda will focus on two areas: improving or removing ineffective teachers and helping to write rules if a district becomes financially insolvent. He will propose bills in both areas.
Dorn praised the Teacher and Principal Evaluation Pilot program, which was tasked by the Legislature to create a new, uniform evaluation system for teachers and principals. “I think the piloting they’re doing now is the best in the nation,” he said. “Plus there’s a lot of support for their work, both from teachers and administrators.”
But Dorn said he was concerned about how to deal with ineffective teachers. The first step, he said, is to help improve those teachers. If that’s not possible, districts need more flexibility in dealing with them. “My proposal is this: teachers who receive the lowest rating in their evaluations two years in a row should revert back to probationary status. Districts can then work with those teachers on a plan of improvement, or remove them without the elongated system of appeals we have now.”
Dorn said he was also concerned about what to do when a district becomes financially insolvent. That occurred in 2007, when the Vader School District failed to pass levies and could not continue to function. But no rules exist on the process of dissolving a district. In tough economic times, Dorn said, the issue could come up again. “Make no mistake, though: I hope all 295 districts remain solvent,” he said. “But we do need some rules in case they aren’t.”
During his speech, Dorn announced the names of the first round of Innovative Schools. “Washington has a long history of creating and supporting innovative schools,” he said, “and it’s time we celebrate that.”
House Bill 1521, passed in 2011, requires OSPI to identify existing schools in Washington that have implemented “bold, creative and innovative” ideas. The identified schools have high expectations for students and teachers, provide students with an array of educational options, and partner with families and their communities.
“We received 42 completed applications,” Dorn said, “and we chose 22 schools. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Aviation High School in Des Moines, Delta High School in the Tri Cities and the School of the Arts in Tacoma. But the 22 schools we chose come from all over the state and show a level of innovation that greatly impressed me.”
Dorn listed three examples:
- Bonney Lake High School was designed using the High Schools That Work model, which adds a layer of focus to an academic curriculum.
- Spokane Valley High School offers four non-traditional programs: full day, which is project-based learning with performance-based assessments; transition schools, which are individualized and contract-based; General Education Diploma preparation; and Co-op Evening Educational Program, for students who have received long-term suspensions or expulsions.
- Talbot Hill Elementary School in Renton uses the MicroSociety program, which allows students to create and participate in a democratic mini-society within the school.
View the list of innovative schools.
“Every one of the 22 schools we’ve chosen should be proud of what they’re accomplishing,” Dorn said. “I hope they can serve as guides for other schools to follow.”
In addition, another bill – E2SHB 1546 – creates a process for creating additional innovative schools that will be designated regionally by the state’s nine Education Service Districts in the spring.
When he took office in January 2009, Dorn created a set of five priorities that would guide his tenure. With the exception of education funding, Dorn said that measurable success can be found in each of his priorities.
- Improve academic achievement for all students and reduce dropout rates. This year, the state’s extended graduation rate – which includes those students who take longer than four years to graduate – topped 80 percent for the first time. “That’s a big accomplishment,” Dorn said. “Our schools and our educators should be applauded for their efforts in this area. We want that number to be higher, but it’s going in the right direction.”
- Promote early learning opportunities. Dorn was particularly proud of the progress made in early learning. “Early learning is a dropout retrieval program,” he said. “It is also a high school graduation program.” Dorn explained that the investment in early learning pays off throughout a student’s education: a student entering kindergarten with the required skills for that age will tend to stay in school and eventually graduate.
As examples of the progress being made in early learning, Dorn cited the expansion of schools offering all-day kindergarten and the development of the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS), which gives teachers an understanding about where students are, socially and emotionally, when entering kindergarten. State funding for full-day Kindergarten was increased by the Legislature in 2011.
- Expand career and technical education and STEM opportunities. Expanding career and technical education programs and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) opportunities give students a chance at applied learning, Dorn said. Students need to know math concepts but also need to know how to use those concepts in their daily lives. They also need those opportunities early in their education, not just at middle and high school. “We need more math and science teachers engaging our students in earlier grades,” he said.
- Increase online participation in statewide assessments. To reduce the costs of our assessment system, Dorn said, all schools will eventually need to be online. In spring 2012, the grades 3-8 Measurements of Student Progress will be offered online in reading, math and science. In addition, the state is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing an online testing system that will assess the Common Core State Standards in math and English-language arts. “Moving online not only saves costs, it increases efficiencies within the testing system,” Dorn said.
- Retain basic education funding. Dorn said he has not and will not back down on continuing to fight for basic education funding. “As I’ve said many times, it’s in our Constitution as the state’s paramount duty to amply fund basic education,” he said. “I plan to hold the Governor and the Legislature to their responsibility. There can be no cuts to basic education.”
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the primary agency charged with overseeing K-12 education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine Educational Service Districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students.
OSPI does not discriminate and provides equal access to its programs and services for all persons without regard to race, color, gender, religion, creed, marital status, national origin, sexual preference/orientation, age, veteran’s status or the presence of any physical, sensory or mental disability.
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